Daytona Beach, Florida

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Daytona Beach, FL

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In late June we visited Daytona Beach and surprisingly found a new reinvigorated city. We stayed one night in Daytona approximately ten years ago and found it dingy and rundown. Cars were parked all along the beach and we found the whole atmosphere undesirable. Yet, lately in our travel research Daytona pops up as a number one tourist destination so we just had to check it out.

We left Beaufort, SC and at Jacksonville, FL headed for the coastal route A1A. We began in St. Augustine, which is a city we have visited many times and absolutely love. We had lunch at our favorite restaurant the Santa Maria, a pier restaurant famous for great fresh seafood and feeding fish while you eat. There are trap doors along the windowed room by each table. Servers bring a basket of bread and you can feed both the birds and fish from your table. It is unique and great fun for all ages. The food is excellent and lunch is half the price of dinner. I had broiled scallops and my husband had fried shrimp. As usual in the south, lunch was accompanied by great hushpuppies. The view from this restaurant is extraordinary. There is a full view of the marina, Bridge of Lions, and the historic district. Interestingly, the Santa Maria has quite a colorful history. In 1763, Francisco Jacinta built a landing so ships could tie up and deliver their cargo. Through the years the landing has been a home, a commercial fishing dock, and a restaurant. Owned by twenty different owners to date several were rumored to be very colorful characters. In 1954 Louis and Marguerite Connell restored the badly rundown landing and opened a restaurant. Unfortunately in 1964 Hurricane Dora dealt the restaurant a heavy blow closing it for nine months. Last rebuilt in 1885 great care was taken to preserve as much as possible. The Connells, who originated the idea of feeding the fish, passed away and their son and their children now run the restaurant. This is a great place for history, great food and fun.

It was a lovely one-hour ride down the coastal route to Daytona passing through several communities: Ormond Beach, Ormond by the Sea, and Holly Hill. The route provided a lovely view of the ocean and dunes the entire way down. I highly recommend a trip on A1A. It is a charming, relaxing way to begin a vacation. We arrived at our resort, The Fairfield at Ocean Walk on Atlantic Avenue N right around check-in. One important southeastern beach navigational tip is that coastal towns have avenues N and S and sometimes more than one N or S. It can be a bit confusing when searching for an address. Our resort was right on the ocean and absolutely gorgeous. Our condo offered a fantastic city and beach view from the 23rd floor. The amenities were incredible with several pools, a lazy river, waterslide, Tiki bar and Jacuzzis. The beach amenities offered ocean toys, bikes, chairs and umbrellas and much more. Inside the resort were more pools, a work out room, office center, activities center, a movie theatre showing new releases nightly and a restaurant. Located just a short distance from the boardwalk and pier made access to these attractions effortless.

We hastily stored our luggage and began to explore the area. A new set of shops and restaurants had been built alongside the resort and everything from braided hair and henna tattoos to Bubba Gump restaurant and Starbucks could be found. We continued walking along the old boardwalk and found a lovely Clamshell pavilion featuring entertainment throughout the year. The boardwalk was filled with old charm invoking many old beach memories. Little shops, food joints, and the ever-present midway and street performers made me feel like a child again. On the roof of the midway there were go-carts and two amusement rides definitely not for the faint of heart. The Sling Shot was comprised of two cranes and a metal ball with two seats. You got it---they shot this ball into the air and it swayed back and forth mercilessly. The Wild Thing was like the old carnival Bullet ride. The hundred-year-old pier offered fishing, a sky ride and sky needle, photo ops and my personal favorite, helicopter rides.

On our first night in any new city we try to find a few places with local color. We found some good advice in a travelogue while researching the city. Froggy’s Saloon was recommended as a popular local “Biker Bar” and the Boot Hill Saloon was recommended as a local favorite for entertainment and raucous party nights. Both were in walking distance on Main St. One thing we have to say is that Daytona feels like a very safe city. We saw many patrol cars and police presence so walking didn’t feel like a problem. Froggy’s Saloon, located at 800 Main St., was definitely a unique bar. From the wide assortment of frogs and biker week memorabilia to Jagermeister on tap, we got a modest glimpse of what a biker bar was like. A DJ played music from a second story booth and there was a dance area upstairs also. It was a quiet night so upstairs wasn’t open. The sign over the bar said, “I’ll have what the guy on the floor is having”. In the ladies room the toilet paper was hanging from fishing chains. Leather, tattoos, headbands and long hair were the fashion for the evening and most everyone knew each other. I would have to say that we stood out a tad in our resort attire, but never felt uncomfortable. As always we got into a conversation with the bartender, Karen a pretty woman in tight hot pants with dollar bills stuffed in her shirt. Incredibly she was born in Connecticut, went to boarding school in Vermont, went to college in Boston, worked for a while near my hometown in RI, and has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and Finance. She worked for ten years in the corporate world and now lives in Daytona. She laughingly said, “Boy, is my father proud!”

Our next stop was the Boot Hill Saloon, just a little ways down the same street. It was also a quiet night but there was definitely evidence this place could be quite rowdy in a different way. Bras hung from the ceiling and photos all over the walls showed how they got there. It seems it is tradition to flash the bartender in this establishment. Our bartender, Mark was very nice and moved here recently from Martha’s Vineyard where he was an electrician. We met Eddie a business professor from Syracuse, NY who had lived in Daytona a year and was moving to West Palm Beach to teach once again. We talked for hours and then met Karen, the owner who was an absolute sweetheart. It was a fun night with the locals. Just a note: they do not take credit cards. It is hard cash only. On the way home we walked the boardwalk again. It was so enticing with all its lights and colorful signs. We stopped for a “Big” ice cream, which dropped down the front of my shirt and shorts and all over the lovely red rose my husband bought from a lady at the saloon. We laughed and laughed on the short way to the resort. Thank goodness for the washer and dryer in our unit.

The next day was Friday and our 27th anniversary. We did not want the candles and white tablecloth kind of dinner so we did some more research. We spent late morning and afternoon on the beach, pool deck and in the pool. It was perfect. After showering and changing we headed off to a place also highly recommended in our research called The Wreck, Daytona’s Riverfront Classic. Also located on Main St (115 Main St) it offers a covered outside dining deck overlooking the Halifax River, Happy Hour daily and live entertainment. A motorcycle engine served as the beer tap. The food was moderately priced and the service was excellent. I highly recommend the shrimp skewers. It’s a great place for your whole family.

Next, we headed to International Speedway Blvd to get the NASCAR feeling. Personally we are not NASCAR fans, but this track draws any where from 250,000 to 650,000 fans to its races and at least deserves a look. Our first stop was the Speed Park on 201 Fentree Blvd. The attractions include Thundermania, Sport Grand Prix, Sprint Challenge, Nitro Alley and an arcade. Next was Daytona USA located at the Daytona International Speedway. The Speedway itself was mammoth and that is even a bit understated. We could not get a good picture of it due to its size. The stands were incredibly tall and the whole site just boggled my mind. “DAYTONA USA, the one-of-a-kind, 60,000 square-foot, interactive motorsports attraction, is the world-class showplace for race fans to soak in the history of America’s fastest sport and visit Gatorade Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway.”

Now I could get excited because we were headed to the Greyhound track and I love the “puppies”. Daytona Beach Kennel Club is located right near the Speedway. It is $1.00 admission and children are welcome with an adult. As soon as we walked in the Club I felt the thrill of excitement. There is an atmosphere of fun and intrigue and I just could not wait to look at the program for the first race. I also love to sit outside right on the finish line. We do not know a lot about betting on dogs, but we used to love to go to the races when we lived in RI. We know how to check out their class, weight, past performances, etc. but in the end everything is just left up to chance. Sometimes you are better off just picking them by their name or color. I get the most pleasure hearing the announcer yell, “Here comes Lucky!!” We won some and we lost some but we had the best time. The skies did open up around the third race and the storm moved us inside but the fun continued. It was a perfect anniversary. There is also a POKER ROOM located at this Club offering, “Texas Hold ‘EM”, “Omaha”, and “7-Card Stud” along with other great card games. My husband would have been in that room in a second if it weren’t our anniversary. The very reasonable table stakes are either .25 or $1

Our last full day was Saturday and we made a full day out of it. We began with a tremendous breakfast at the Starlite Diner right across the street. For $5 I had huge servings of French toast, ham, and home fries and I was full all day. We then relaxed at the pool in the lazy river and even tried the water slide. After a shower and change we headed to the pier for a helicopter ride. I have never been in a helicopter and was thrilled to be getting this opportunity. A $25.00 ride took you up one end of the beach and back down the other. We could see our resort, the pavilion and boardwalk and miles of beach and water. It only lasted 10 minutes but it was one of the best times I’ve ever had. They have 6 tours to choose from including sunset and city tours. We then headed back out A1A south to Ponce Inlet. My sister recommend the North Turn Bar and Grille for a drink or snack so we stopped there first. It is a casual oceanfront restaurant with a 5000 sq. ft deck and an air-conditioned dining room. Live music was playing and the deck was crowded when we arrived. We sat back in wooden chairs and read the history of the place while sipping our drinks and watching the ocean. According to their menu, “This is the location where racing history began. The races were held here from 1936 until the war, and continued with the first Grand National Race in 1949 until 1958 when the races were moved to the new Speedway.” It was a nice little interlude. From there we headed to the Ponce De Leon Inlet Light Station, a national historic landmark. The lighthouse is the tallest in Florida and the second tallest in the nation. The museum grounds take you back in time to experience life at this remote light station in the 1800’s. The keeper’s homes and outbuildings have been preserved and are filled with artifacts from maritime and lighthouse history. There is also a Marine Science Center located nearby.

We were now starving and headed to Inlet Harbor Marina and Restaurant. We sat on the outdoor torchlit deck watching pelicans and boaters in the Halifax River. Many boats pulled up to dock to have dinner. It brought back great boating memories. The dinners were huge and inexpensive and the atmosphere was superb. The sun started setting and the band began playing who could ask for anything more!!! We had to head back to the resort because there was going to be a fireworks display. On the way home we stopped at a very unique tobacco shop, Tobacco Exotica. My husband entered the humidor as always and I chatted with the shopkeeper, Cindy. She came from San Diego; lived in South Dakota on a 600 acre ranch in the middle of nowhere and now lives here. We also met three wonderful young men on a church retreat. They were from Wisconsin, San Francisco, and Louisville. We had a wonderful conversation and wished them well.

Well, I have to admit Daytona is a beautiful, vibrant city with fun-filled days and nights. We were exhausted each night and fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. We were totally surprised by the up-dated look and feel of this city. Walking through the city at night was both exhilarating and beautiful and the feeling of safety and security enhanced the vacation tremendously. We met so many nice people from all sorts of backgrounds who all seemed to be sharing the same wonderful time. It also amazed us how reasonably priced everything was. We would go back in a heartbeat and probably will soon. One other worthy note is that the resort we stayed at is a Fairfield vacation ownership property. Many other beautiful resorts including the Adams Mark, line the streets and oceanfront of Daytona. It sure changed our opinion of Daytona and I highly recommend you add it to your list of places to visit in the future. You won’t be sorry.
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